Mary Alice Smith – Lake of the Woods Powwow Club Project

In early 2012, community member Mary Alice Smith proposed a collaboration with the CGRF to help fulfill her late husband, elder Joseph Morrison’s desire to see the Lake of the Woods Powwow Club and the region’s early traditional healers be honoured for their formidable efforts over the past forty years.

The Lake of the Woods Powwow Club formed around the Lake of the Woods Drum in the early 1970s.  It was an integral part of the movement of area Anishinaabeg seeking to reclaim and recover cultural traditions, teachings, and traditional knowledge that had nearly been lost through generations of cultural suppression, including the residential schools experience.  The group also provided a peer-to-peer support network that members relied upon as they found their individual paths to sobriety, and reconstructed lives shattered by various forms of cultural violence.

As participants began learning and reclaiming the songs and teachings of the drum, the group grew from a handful of people to as many as 20 to 30 members in the early 1980s.  Not only were singers and drummers directly involved, but their wives, children and extended families also became part of the circle, assisting in reviving cultural traditions such as beading, making regalia, and dancing.

Mr. Morrison, a long-time Justice of the Peace, was the son of Don and Ada Morrison, one of the original couples who helped begin the Lake of the Woods Powwow Club.  Among the materials left in Ms. Smith’s care are items that belonged to both Joseph and his father, Don Morrison.  These include numerous audio recordings, home movies, and professional videos of early powwows, recordings of elder teachings and discussions, conferences on mental health, addictions, and footage of the Powwow Club’s travels to remote communities throughout the region and across North America.  Mr. Morrison also left a substantial collection of personal papers, including interview transcripts, and memoirs.

It has been Ms. Smith’s hope that by preserving these precious archival materials, future generations may have the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of their elders and forebearers, even as these people pass into the Spirit realm.


Madeline Skead was a founding member of the Lake of the Woods Powwow Club.

As this project has unfolded, Ms. Smith has been collaborating with the Lake of the Woods Museum, Waasegiizhig Nanaandawe’Iyewigamig Health Access Centre, and other cultural and government organizations in the Treaty 3 area to determine how best to honour the legacy of healing and cultural reclamation that was initiated by the elders of the Lake of the Woods Powwow Club.  Many people recognize that while this group and its members helped to launch several social services organizations and initiatives in the Lake of the Woods region, few know this history, and fewer still are aware of the profound, positive impact the Powwow Club families’ efforts have had on their communities.

One of the original outcomes from this project was to have been a museum exhibit focusing on the history of regional powwows, and the contributions that the associated cultural reclamation has made to social and individual healing among area Indigenous peoples.  However, it has become apparent that the scope of work required to accomplish this goal is unlikely to fit within the time frame required of the CGRF.  While an exhibit may still result, the current project’s focus is simply to preserve these precious materials and to begin the necessary conversations with all who have been involved in the Powwow Club to determine how best to honour this group’s powerful and important legacy.

A final project update is available here: Final Report on the Lake of the Woods Powwow Club Project.